When it comes to the Game of Thrones universe, you can’t beat a bit of symbolism. Remember the wolves given to the Stark children? The spiral patterns that cropped up throughout the show? The Iron Throne itself?
Well, we’re now three episodes into House of the Dragon and it looks like HBO’s prequel will be following in its predecessor’s footsteps.
In episode 3, as well as a pretty epic battle sequence, we also followed King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) on a hunt through the King’s Wood to celebrate the second name day of his new son, Prince Aegon. Not long into the action, though, the King is alerted to the possibility of a white stag (or white hart) appearing within hunting distance.
What follows is a pretty key bit of symbolism surrounding the hart — but what exactly was the show trying to say, and what will it mean for the characters?
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What happens with the white hart in episode 3?
The white hart is first mentioned by Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) as the King is arguing with Princess Rhaenyra about her need to marry. The royal hunters have sighted one nearby. After Rhaenyra storms off and is followed into the woods by her bodyguard, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), the King stays with his main party as they attempt to track down this near-mythical beast.
Eventually, the King’s hunters do locate a stag — but it’s a brown one, not white. The King is given a spear and instructed how to deliver the final blow, but he struggles, wounding the stag before eventually killing it.
Meanwhile, after camping out overnight in the woods, Rhaenyra and Cole are attacked by a boar, which they manage to fight off and kill. The next day, as they’re staring out across Westeros, they’re approached by the fabled white hart. Cole goes to draw his sword but Rhaenyra stops him, and the stag gallops off.
What. Does. It. Mean?
Princess Rhaenyra: Boar killer, stag locator.
What do the characters say about the white hart?
Before we try to work out the symbolism, let’s go back over what the characters themselves have to say about the white hart in the episode.
“The stag is the king of the King’s Wood, your grace,” says Otto Hightower when he first breaks the news to Viserys. “A regal portent for Prince Aegon’s name day.” This idea of the stag being a “regal portent” is re-enforced when the king gets an update on the stag’s whereabouts from one of his hunters.
“Before the dragons ruled over Westeros, the white hart was the symbol of royalty in these lands,” says the huntsman.
“I’ve never been one for signs and portents, your grace, but if the gods did wish to show their favour…” adds Hightower.
So, it seems pretty clear, at least, that for the characters in House of the Dragon, the white hart is a symbol of royalty.
A man who is clearly less than thrilled to be out hunting.
What does the white hart symbolise in episode 3?
The reason Hightower is so keen to peddle the white hart’s legend is because he wants the King to name his grandson, Prince Aegon, the next heir. If the stag is a message from the gods, though, it’s pretty clear they have other ideas.
One clear reading of the hart’s symbolism in episode 3 could be that Princess Rhaenyra is indeed the one destined to be the next ruler. The white hart appears to her, after all, while Prince Aegon’s name day ends in nothing but a regular ol’ brown stag.
But perhaps another meaning can be found in the way her and her father interact with their stags. King Viserys struggling to kill the beast could be seen as him losing his grip on the Iron Throne — a metaphor for his struggles to choose the right heir.
Meanwhile, we know that Princess Rhaenyra is not opposed to getting her hands dirty. The boar is proof of that. But in letting the white hart go, is she proving that her poise will allow her to be a stronger ruler than her father?
Or could it actually be a sign that she’ll only find true peace if she lets the dream of royalty, and the Iron Throne, go once and for all?
New House of the Dragon episodes are available every Sunday on HBO and HBO Max.(opens in a new tab)